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Gay Marriage Opponents Begin Referendum Effort

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ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Same-sex marriage opponents have taken the first steps to bring legislation legalizing gay marriage to referendum.

Delegate Neil Parrott said he filed draft language for a referendum petition with the state board of elections Friday, a day after the Senate joined the House in approving a bill to allow same-sex marriages. Gov. Martin O’Malley endorses the measure and plans to sign it next week.

The board has a week to consider the submission and if it is approved, Parrott and others will begin collecting the 55,736 signatures needed to bring the measure to the November ballot.

“The process is started and really the goal is to make sure the citizens of Maryland can vote on this very important bill,” Parrott said.

Gay marriage advocates said they will fight to make sure the law is upheld and that they think it is inappropriate to leave the issue to the discretion of voters.

“It’s sad to me that anyone would think that it’s OK to put up the rights of a minority to a popular vote,” said Lisa Polyak, chairwoman of the board of directors for the gay rights organization Equality Maryland. “We have children, we have lives, we have jobs and we just want to go about them with integrity.”

Last year, Parrott, a Washington County Republican, successfully led a petition drive on a law granting in-state college tuition to illegal immigrants.

The petition, driven largely by allowing signers to download forms and submit their signatures by mail, is the first successful state-wide referendum attempt since state abortion laws were upheld in 1992.

Parrott said he will use the website created for that drive, mdpetitions.com, to bolster signature collection on the gay marriage bill.

“It makes it much easier for people to get involved who could never have gotten involved before,” he said. “Before you had to know someone or know where the petitions were going to be. This allows people from the furthest parts of Maryland to be able to get on their computer and participate in the referendum process.”

Parrott says his group plans to turn in at least double the required number of signatures to ensure enough match the state’s strict policy for validating the names.

Maryland requires that in order to be counted, voters signing the petition must provide a printed name and formal signature that match their name on the state’s voter registration rolls. However, the state Court of Appeals relaxed the measure a bit last year when it ruled that signatures do not have to be legible.

“You have to make sure the petitions are legal,” Parrott said. “The I’s are dotted, the T’s are crossed and if they’re not, we know those aren’t going to be counted.”

He would not identify other groups working on the petition drive, but religious organizations, including the Catholic church, have pledged to help overturn the law.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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